Two Conference Education Extremes: Reports And Stories

Most conference education sessions are broken.

Image by inesplicabile.

Creating The Walking Dead Attendee

They are full of the requisite PowerPoint bullet presentations that promote status quo thinking. They lull attendees into a coma-like state of disinterest and boredom so that they become the walking dead.

Admit it. You’ve been trapped in those dead presentations before. Even remembering them brings up unwanted feelings of dread.

Let’s face it. Most conference education is flat-lined. Its presentations are boring. Many are terrible failures in communication. Others are simply irrelevant. The majority of presentations are self-centered, egotistical monologues of droning monotone voices that do not know how to connect to their audiences.

Conference Education Can Change The World

Conference education, done right, has the power to change things. Presentations coupled with audience engagement are powerful platforms to persuade. They can be the most effective catalysts for meaningful change. They can transform.

Conference organizers that provide an array of effective learning opportunities understand that they are tools of great power, persuasion and motivation. Learning opportunities that allow attendees to make deep human connections with others succeed. When the audience can’t connect with each other or the content, transformation diminishes.

Three Types Of Conference Presentations

Resonate author Nancy Duarte identifies three types of presentations: reports, explanations and stories. She says that all presentations fall between these two extreme poles: reports and stories.

1. Reports

Reports inform. They organize facts by topics. They are hierarchical. They provide an exhaustive list of details, facts and figures compiled from data, evidence, records and surveys. Reports emphasize accuracy and findings.

Reports are best delivered via documents distributed in print or electronically. Using PowerPoint to create a report does not mean that it is an effective presentation or story.

Reports are not presentations. They do not need to be magnified on screens by LCD projectors for an audience karaoke-style read-along.

Reports convey information. They do not provide education or learning. Documents and reports try to impersonate presentations. But they are not presentations.

2. Presentations

Presentations explain things. They provide a balance of both facts and stories. Like a great layered cake, they artfully blend truths with storytelling covered with a frosting of audience engagement. 

Presentations unfold as they illuminate relevant details with pertinent stories that persuade and motivate. When presentations intentionally combine facts and stories with attendee participation, they provide the ultimate brain-friendly learning experience.

These are the conference education sessions that create participants’ desire to transform. These are the ones that are fondly remembered.

3. Stories

Stories organize things dramatically. They entertain. Good ones produce an emotional, visceral response. They produce an experience. The best stories are found in movies and books.

Stories emote. They follow a dramatic structure of a situation, complication and resolution. They can hold an audience’s interest like a good movie. People relate to stories.

Yet stories alone are not educational or learning opportunities. Stories coupled with facts and audience participation provide the hook for learning and retention.

Successful Conference Education Incorporates Facts, Stories, Audience Engagement

The corporate culture norm is to provide presentations as reports absent of stories.

Navigating between facts, stories and participation creates interest and a healthy pulse for learning. Conference organizers need to help their speakers shift from providing education sessions filled with reports to experiences that provide facts, stories and participation.

Why are so many conference education experiences full of reports? How can you help speakers transition from reports to presentations as experiences and engagement?

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Hurt and nancyrubin, Zerista Pro. Zerista Pro said: Fwd: Two Conference Education Extremes: Reports And Stories: Most conference education sessi… #eventprofs […]

  2. Two Conference Education Extremes: Reports And Stories…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  3. Becky McCray says:

    I just book another keynote, and two breakout sessions to go with it. Oddly enough, the organizers understood and asked for a mix of stories and reports for the keynote, but requested a more report or factual style for the breakout. Without enough report style, the lead organizer worried attendees would feel the session was a waste of time.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, that is very odd that they wanted a report/factual data dump for the breakout. Our brains are just not hardwired to remember all that data from a breakout. When I get asked to do something like that, I usually respond with, “What three things do you want the audience to remember after the presentation?” That often stops them in their tracks and hopefully leads to a healthy discussion about content in presentations.

      And congrats on the booking too!

  4. Linda Chreno says:

    I wish more conference organizers would share with the presenters which type of presentation is being sought – rather than just roundtable discussion, panel discussion because the organizers know their audience and what their audience expects. As a presenter, it is often hard to tailor the presentation “on the fly” as you are presenting.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      So true. More conference organizers sharing with presenters their goal of the presentations would help create more success for sure!

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